Fly Fishing for Crappie 101 – Techniques, Best Flies & Tips

Can you fly fish for crappie? The answer is yes you can. Fly fishing for crappie is very good because there is crappie in most ponds and lakes and reservoirs.

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Some Information on Crappie

Did you know that Crappie is a member of the sunfish family? Crappie is considered to be one of the best tasting and one of the most fun to catch freshwater fish.

Crappie is believed to be a native to the eastern United States and Canada. But due to wide transplantation, there are populations of Crappie in all of the 48 contiguous states today. This makes them a very popular North American game fish.

The name crappie can refer to either the white crappie, which is lighter in color with vertical black stripes.

Or the black crappie. which is and darker with a pattern of black spots.

Both species are very similar in size, shape, and habits. The average crappie weighs between 1/2 and 1 pound and measures 5-12 inches, though they are capable of growing much larger. Crappie is a very social fish and they form schools to live in.

Crappie will usually spawn between May and June. During this time, all the male fish will make the indented nests on the floor of shallow water.

The female will then lay between 5,000 and 60,000 eggs.

The eggs take approximately 2-5 days to hatch. Crappies are very fertile breeders and will over-populate small bodies of water very quickly if the population is not controlled.

Black Crappie

Where to Find Early Season Crappies

The crappie is one of the first panfish to become active in the spring. They will enter the shallows to spawn earlier than other species like bass, bluegill, and sunfish.

Since they prefer colder water, they begin actively feeding before the other warm water species.

The shallow bays of ponds and lakes are usually the first to start warming up. You can expect fish to move into these areas first.

Crappies will often hold along the edges of weed beds and submerged timber. You can also find them in reed beds and old lily pad fields, especially early in the season.

If you are a shore or bank angler, weed lines within casting distance of the shore and fallen trees will be your best bet.

Those fishing from watercraft will be able to access more water with different fish holding structures. These fish show they have a preference for feeding early and late in the day.

Your chances of finding fish will improve if you can get on the water in the early morning and late afternoon hours. My personal preference is the late afternoon right up to sunset.

Although I usually fish subsurface flies for crappie, occasionally they will hit on topwater flies. Especially once the season progresses and the water begins to warm up.

man holding Crappie fish

Line and Leader Selection

Since crappies are found in the shallows in early spring, I can get away using a floating fly line for 99% of my fishing.

On a very rare occasion in late winter or very early spring, I may switch to a sink tip. Sometimes I may go to a full sinking line if the fish are holding deep.

My flies for these early season fish are nymphs or small streamers that are easily handled by a four weight. I try my hardest to resist the temptation to go lighter.

As sometimes I am dealing with wind early in the year and going lighter can inhibit my casting performance. In many cases, I use sinking leaders of varying sink rates depending on where I am fishing.

Sometimes I attach a short section of 3x tippet to the end of the sinking leader, not more than two feet. If the fish are in the very shallow water, a 7 and 1/2 foot tapered leader will suffice.

Techniques and Flies

Fishing shoreline weed beds can be very productive. During early spring it is usually very easy to find and locate weed beds.

I prefer to present my fly to the deep water side of the bed and allow it to sink to the bottom.

After making your cast, watch the line where it enters the water for any suspicious movement. Crappies are notorious for inhaling the fly as it settles to the bottom.

If you don’t pay attention, they can suck in and spit out your fly without you even knowing it.

Once the fly has settled on or near the bottom, I lift the rod and swim the fly back over the weed bed staying as close to the tops of the submerged weeds as possible. The fish often appear out of nowhere and grab the fly.

I often try to present the fly parallel to the bank as opposed to retrieving it towards the shore.

This technique can be very effective depending on the orientation of the structure that you are fishing. I also look for woody debris like fallen or sunken trees.

These can be some prime crappie locations in the early spring. When fishing submerged trees and other structure like docks and bulkheads casting accuracy is essential.

You will need to cast your fly as close to the structure as possible.

Crappies often hang tight to underwater structure waiting to ambush anything that swims by them.

fly fishing rod and fly box full of flies

A fly like a green-eyed damsel fly nymph could be a good choice for crappies holding in weedy areas.

Crappies readily feed on aquatic insects in the spring so nymphs can be as effective as streamers at times.

As far as flies go nymphs, wet flies and small streamers are all effective. My favorites are some small streamers and the larger soft hackles.

Small streamers can be very effective, primarily when fish are actively feeding on minnows.

I like little woolly buggers and hair or feather wing patterns. Crappies also show a fondness for lots of aquatic insects at this time of year.

These insects can be imitated by nymphs, wet flies or soft hackles.

My go-to insect imitations are damselfly and dragonfly nymph imitations. Large soft hackles and wet flies can imitate both aquatic insects and small baitfish.

Soft hackles do a great job imitating aquatic insects and small baitfish

Crappies are one of the most popular panfish and are sought by many anglers.

If you have never tried fly fishing for them with a fly rod you are missing out on a lot of fun.

Give crappies a shot this spring I bet you will not be disappointed!

Read more: Top 7 Crappie Lures & Baits for Spring Fishing and Top 7 Best Crappie Lures of 2024

Crappie Equipment

Panfish fishing doesn’t require special equipment. Most trout-fishing gear can get the job done, but you might want to experiment with a 2- or 3-weight fly rod.

I use a soft-action 6-weight rod with weight-forward floating lines. A nine-foot or longer rod will help you cast the added weight of the indicator. Most casts to crappie structure are 40 feet or less.

Try using a standard 7or 9-foot leader tapered to 3X or 4Xtippet. Most crappies are not leader shy, and the stronger tippets will help when you must pull flies from a snagged structure.

This system normally works almost anywhere in the country, on any panfish.

Crappie Life Science

The black crappie is a sunfish, that is related to the white crappie. It is marked by silvery sides, dark-olive or black backs, and spots scattered on its sides and fins.

They fight better than white crappie and prefer the clearer, cooler waters in the northern lakes of North America.

Black or white Crappie, begin feeding when the water temperatures reach above 40 degrees F.

As the water warms, they become increasingly active, and in spring when the temperature hits around 65 degrees F. Then they will begin spawning.

Crappie and panfish are aggressive during the late pre-spawning and spawning periods.

During the late spawn, they patrol in schools and take a large variety of baitfish, insect, and popper patterns.

Their spring willingness to take flies, bait, and lures has given them the reputation of easy prey. But they can be a lot harder to take with flies in summer.

fly fishing rod and reel with different types of fishing flies

Remember the Spawn

After the spawn, crappies return to deeper, cooler water. Getting a fly to them is not as easy. You must locate deep-water structure and fish with sinking-tip lines and slow retrieves.

The fish will return to feed in the shallows at night and later in the fall. This is when the shallows water temperature falls back into the 50- to 60-degree range.

They also move into the shallows when there is an abundance of bait or a hatch.

Crappies are live-food predators that eat minnows, aquatic insects, terrestrials, shrimp, crayfish, leeches, and aquatic worms.

They wait in ambush for their food, using camouflage to let it approach, and then they suck it in.

All flies should be fished slowly. Takes are subtle and strike indicators help, as do poppers fished with dropper flies.

Remember Crappie have tender membrane-and-cartilage mouths similar to shad, so you should use barbless flies that won’t do damage.

It will usually take them up to four years for a fish to reach 12 inches. The average crappies usually will weigh 11/2 pounds, but they can reach over 4 pounds.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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